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Human Rights

Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2018

Promoting and defending human rights is an essential aim of the foreign policy of “Global Britain”. The Foreign Office’s 2017 “Human Rights & Democracy” report demonstrates the breadth of the issues that we campaign on and how we mobilise the diplomatic network to champion universal rights.

It is now over a week since the Government missed their own deadline to take a decision on whether to order an independent inquiry into the role of the UK in the use of torture. When can a decision be expected? Why have the Government not accepted the recommendations of Members across the House to hold such an inquiry?

Obviously, this matter will in due course be addressed in front of the House, not in public first. The Prime Minister will make a decision and will inform the House accordingly.

The human rights situation of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov should give us all cause for concern. When I first raised Mr Sentsov’s plight in October 2016, the then Foreign Secretary said that the UK Government were appealing to the Russian authorities for his release. Sentsov is now three months into a hunger strike and faces almost certain death unless he is released. What further representations can our Government make to secure his release and save his life?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this pressing case. We should all be speaking loudly in favour of the release of this prisoner from unjustified detention. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary undertakes to raise the matter directly with Sergey Lavrov when he meets him, and I hope that the prisoner will be released. There is absolutely no justification for this man being imprisoned. Indeed, he risks death as a result of his hunger strike.

18. What are the Government doing towards the release of Shahidul Alam, the photographer imprisoned and tortured in Bangladesh, whose case has been championed by 10 Nobel prize winners and Sharon Stone? He is one of 700 detained under that country’s Information and Communication Technology Act, which Amnesty International says represents a muzzling of all critics of the regime. Offences carry a minimum seven-year sentence, and the judiciary is not impartial. Will the Minister impress upon this ally that such draconian legislation is killing Bangladesh’s once vibrant civil society? (906725)

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who doubles up as a Department for International Development Minister, made direct representations when he visited last week, and the high commissioner in Bangladesh is continuing to make strong representations as frequently and as effectively as she possibly can.

A vital human right is that girls receive an education. Given that girls are likely to be out of education in conflict zones, what further actions are the Government and the Department taking to tackle that serious and worrying issue?

We championed that important issue when I was DFID Minister, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). It is a joint objective of DFID and the Foreign Office to ensure that girls have a full education for as many years as possible, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be meeting the DFID Secretary this afternoon to discuss exactly this topic.

In June, the International Trade Secretary hailed a new £1.5 billion natural gas deal with President Biya’s regime in Cameroon in a Government press release entitled “International visits pay off”. Can the Minister tell us whether the International Trade Secretary knew about the Biya regime’s ongoing persecution and massacres in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, or did he just not care?

I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the investment that goes into Cameroon, particularly from the United Kingdom, but she is also right to say that any investment, particularly in the extractive industries, must meet the highest possible environmental and social standards, and we will endeavour to make sure it does.